UPDATE August 30, 2016: With all the distractions in the news about the 2016 presidential election, some people have mistaken my comments about hiring “culturally-aligned” employees as a discriminatory practice. I want to be explicit in saying that workplace diversity is as important as national diversity. I support diversity in the workplace and have served as an advocate of hiring diversity. People of all cultures, races, and creeds can share common workplace values and it is those workplace values that I refer to when I speak of hiring culturally-aligned employees. Workplace values such as customer appreciation, innovation, empathy, honesty, reliability, personal exceptionalism, etc. are the values that make up a “Company Culture”. A company culture is very different and distinct from a national, religious, racial, or ethnic culture.
Throughout my career I have been privileged to be coached and mentored by some of the top performers in sales, marketing, and human resources. I worked for companies that wrote the book on branding. I consulted with numerous organizations on business processes improvements. I advised senior executives on talent acquisition and retention and I helped companies refocus their company culture. With all this experience, I’ve synergized the best practices from these disciplines into an overall strategy for achieving peak performance in revenue generation and customer retention. It is important to note that a peak performance sales organization requires a peak performance organization creating and delivering the products and services being sold. The whole organization must support the sale with credible proof of the brand promise and it must follow through after the sale to deliver the promise. Failure at any point in the process undermines trust and erodes sales performance.
Is your brand “trusted”?
Most problems with lackluster sales can be traced to a lack of trust in the brand. Trust should be a primary goal of your selling and marketing activities. It is simple, when customers trust your brand they buy your products and services. Trust is both learned and earned. The first pillar of building trust is consistency; consistency in messaging, consistency in quality, consistency in fulfillment, and consistency in customer experience. When all arms of your organization work in harmony to deliver a consistent customer experience, trust is earned. Repetition of a consistent customer experience teaches your consumer to expect a similar result whenever they come into contact with your brand. Trust is created by the people in your organization. It begins with the people in your organization consistently delivering the promise of your brand. Therefore, every employee in your company from the CEO down to the receptionist is part of your sales and marketing team. It is critical that you hire the “right” people if you are going to build a high performance sales and marketing team.
Building a high performance sales and marketing team begins with a strong vision from your executive team and values-based hiring practices. Your executive team must set forth a written set of business values to form the foundation for your company culture then hire managers and workers whose personal value system aligns with the business values. When it comes to hiring employees, it is true that “one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch”. This is especially true in leadership and sales roles. When employees personal values align with the company values, a culture is created where people are empowered to make good and desirable decisions. Employees don’t have to guess what the right thing to do is, they innately understand because of the company culture; a culture that aligns with their personal value system.
Next I’m going to share with you the keys to successfully hiring talent that will energize your organization and elevate it to peak performance. Then I’m going to show you how the “right” salespeople can leverage their instinct to reach peak performance using the savvy tools created by your marketing team.
Hiring the “right” team
The first prerequisite for a peak performing organization is a strong corporate culture. At the heart of an effective corporate culture is a list of core values, not only stated but practiced by the leadership team. When the leadership team has a set of shared core values they act as a cohesive team. On the contrary when the leadership team has divergent values, they act politically and competitively against each other to obtain power at the expense of organizational productivity. I’ve seen some outstanding organizations (and their brands) destroyed by making a poor leadership decision. As the old saying goes “one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch”. Home Depot is a classic example where Bob Nardelli, although an excellent executive at GE, was the wrong choice as CEO for Home Depot. His style (and value system) focused on operational excellence, metrics, process, and cost reduction. He hired into an organization with a culture of customer service where managers were empowered to “break the rules” if needed to make the customer happy. Under the leadership of Bob Nardelli, the Home Depot brand was destroyed, shareholder wealth was diminished, customer loyalty was obliterated and Home Depot became the Walmart of hardware stores. Without going into numerous case studies of good and poor leadership decisions, its clear that a values-aligned leadership team is key to developing a culture that empowers employees to create consistency, ignite the brand, engage the customer, and fuel revenue growth. Hiring the right team is key to building a high performance sales and marketing team.
Contact me if you are interested in learning the techniques I developed to recruit, screen, and place top talent with personal values aligned to the company’s business culture.
Values-based hiring practices
Now that we understand top performing organizations require a values-aligned leadership team, the next step is to understand how that devolves into a company culture that operates at peak performance. The leadership team must develop a set of guiding principles that clearly articulate the core values of the leadership team. Every person should understand and practice the core values in their day to day work practices. All new hires must be evaluated first against the values matrix and secondly against the job proficiencies matrix. The values matrix is the first level of employee screening. Only candidates who score high on values alignment should be considered for employment. Once they are hired, these employees will innately behave in ways that the organization rewards which in turn creates a more agile and competitive organization as well as a more satisfied employee. When the organization hires employees based on core values there is less need for supervision and a flat organization can be created. The flat organization enhances productivity and collaboration. More energy can be focused on winning sales and retaining customers with less energy spent on political gamesmanship. One of the most memorable marketing campaigns that focused on the role of company culture to define its products was the “MAC or PC” campaign initiated by Apple Computer – MAC was “cool” and PC was “nerdy”. This campaign reflected upon the founders of Microsoft and Apple, the cultures they built, and the customers they appealed to. Everything these companies do evolves around a strong company culture – they are fierce competitors fighting for domination of the technology world. Not only is every employee a part of these high performance sales and marketing teams but through their culture and values, they have engaged their customers as part of the team.
Why do you exist
In addition to a set of clearly articulated and practiced core values, leadership must create a vision for the organization’s purpose – a “charter” for existing. All products and services offered must advance that vision. At Apple, Steve Jobs created a culture around “the Apple experience” which was his vision of the role technology plays in people’s lives. Every product served to advance the technology experience. Apple’s former VP of Worldwide Communication explains how the vision about a product, driven by the corporate charter and company culture led to some of the most successful products:
“What was important about that is the marketing team was right next to the product development and engineering teams. So we understood deeply what was important about the product, what the team?s motivations were in the product, what they hoped that product would achieve, what role they wanted it to have in people?s lives. And because we were that close, we were able to translate that very clearly in all of our marketing and communications.”
Your company culture and your company’s purpose for existing form the umbrella under which all your products and services are fleshed out into distinctly branded offerings. Each offering must extend your overarching brand promise into a specific proof statement. There is a brand which we all know that promises “good times”. The company makes is a point to have its logo (and products) available at “fun” events (concerts, movies, sports events, etc.) where people and their families gather for good times. One of their most recognizable ad campaigns starts out with “Things go better with….” Yes, you guessed it, Coca-Cola. Refreshment coupled with good times strengthens their brand experience and creates brand loyalty. I worked at Coca-Cola during the era known as “the Cola Wars”. People became fanatical about their brand of sugar water. Was it driven by flavor or was it the experience that people came to know as “The Real Thing”? Think about all the related brands offered by Coca-Cola. Diet Coke, Tab, Cherry Coke, Mr. Pibb, Coke Zero, etc., they all promise that you will have a fun time with their refreshment. The ongoing purpose of the Coca-Cola Company is to provide refreshing moments and good times.
In addition to culture stemming from shared values at the top and a clear vision for the organization’s existence, the company must speak with a common voice — that is where sales and marketing enter the picture.
The Company Voice
OK, so you’ve developed a brand that reflects the culture and purpose of the organization. You’ve hired a band of people who love and live the brand. Now how do you turn that into peak sales performance? Your probably thinking, “just have the sales people tell the story that our marketing gurus crafted and the customer will be throwing themselves at the salesperson like midnight madness shoppers at Walmart on Black Friday”. If you have the advertising budget of Coca-Cola or Apple Computer that just might happen but if you are a small or mid-size business you’re just dreaming. It takes more sophisticated selling.
Your sales team is the mouth of your organization educating prospects about why they need your products. This is where it gets challenging. Every salesperson must present the product using a consistent voice – the “company voice”. The company voice includes verbal and written words as well as visual stories. Your marketing organization creates the company voice using a specific lexicon and vernacular derived from the organization’s culture and core values. The company voice is the face of your brand. It must look and sound the same everywhere. Sales literature, websites, and advertising must apply it consistently. Salespeople must internalize the company voice and speak with it to customers. When all employees are bound together by a strong company culture, the messaging flows smoothly from concept to execution and you will have achieved critical mass for your high performance sales and marketing team. The final step is execution of the sales process. Solution selling and relationship sales methodologies are effective means of execution.
Solution selling, which is also known as consultative selling, involves a process of education where your prospect discovers they have a need for your salesperson’s offering. Many times the offering is conceptual or service oriented – something not tangible. This type of sale is more complex, intellectual, and emotional because the product can not be held and examined before the purchase. Conceptual sales require the salesperson to evolve a latent need into a conscious need then match the company’s offering to that need. During the sales process, the salesperson must articulate benefits using the lexicon developed by the marketing organization. Preprinted marketing materials as well as the personal presentation of the offering must consistently deliver the company story and product capabilities using the company voice. Consistent repetition is imperative. Just as an advertising campaign repeats a slogan over and over to create recognition, the salesperson must consistently speak the proper lexicon when describing the offering.
Building your high performance sales team requires hiring salespeople with personal values aligned to your company culture. The salesperson will easily internalize and articulate a specific selling lexicon when that lexicon was developed from a business culture that aligns with his personal value system. Salespeople, like everyone else in the organization, must be hired to a values-based profile, they must understand the company’s purpose for existing, know how the products improve people’s lives (fulfill the promise), and they must have an empathic ability to understand and evoke people’s emotions.
Complex sales require two types of motivators. These motivators are referred to as “public” and “personal” motivations. Public motivations are logical reasons to buy and can typically be justified in writing such as in an RFP analysis. Personal motivations are by definition kept secret and hidden from public view but play just as powerful a role in the decision process. For a sale to occur the following things must occur:
- There must be “pain” – the prospect must have and understand an unfulfilled need,
- The prospect must “feel the pain” – prioritize and consciously understand the consequences of going without having that need fulfilled, and
- The prospect must want the “painkiller” – believe the offering fully satisfies the unfulfilled need above all other options.
In addition to developing the pain and providing the painkiller, the sales professional must understand how to unseat the prospect from his comfort zone. The effective sales professional must find the proper positive and negative emotions to move the prospect to action. The pain-painkiller solution provides the logical or “public” reasons for the purchase decision but only the emotional triggers will move a hesitant decision forward to action. The emotional triggers are personal, intangible pains that need to be satisfied. The painkillers can include recognition, love, patriotism, self esteem, pride, altruism among others. Once a salesperson has mastered the process of developing the pain and motivating the prospect, they must be able to execute with an internally directed set of values that reflect the company culture, brand and product offerings using the company voice and related tools. A professional salesperson will have helped a customer make a sound business decision as well as fulfill their higher level personal needs in Maslow’s Hierarchy.
Building your high performance sales and marketing team
There is no silver bullet, there is never a perfect world, and change is always incremental. The key to building your high performance sales and marketing team is understanding the goal and implementing a path to success. There are numerous sales models for different industries whether B2B or B2C. Each customer and industry has unique dynamics to consider when developing your sales methodology. This article is intended to discuss sales and marketing in a general manner, your organization should implement a sales methodology that incorporates these general concepts but adapts them to the specifics of your business environment. Contact me for more information on tuning your sales and marketing organization for peak performance.